Tag Archives: Bread and wine

A Look Back: Four Star Books

2020 is coming to an end, and for my own curiosity, I thought I would share the books that were good books, but not quite my favorite in the last 12 months. I count December 2019 in this collection since I’m obviously not done with December 2020 yet. This is a long one, but I divided by continuing books in a series (like book 2 or 3), the first book in a series or a standalone, collections (of devotionals, poems, or essays), and nonfiction.

Continuing Books in a Series

Vengeful – the second book in the duology by Victoria Schwab. The two scientists continue to wield their powers. Other characters with their own powers are introduced. It wasn’t as good as the first book, but the story is beautifully written as a whole.

The Toll – The final book in the Neal Schusterman series. In a world where death is no longer a threat, society has created a job that culls the growing population. The series is quite the ride, and while I wasn’t crazy about the ending, it still wrapped up things well.

The Hand on the Wall – The perfect end to the murder mystery by Maureen Johnson. This is the last book of the Truly Devious series. Set in an elite private school in Vermont, Stevie has been invited to attend because of her detective skills and unique interest in a murder mystery that happened at the school during the 1930s. But after she arrives, strange things happen and there is more than one murder mystery to solve.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance – Second book in the Legacy of Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi. Based in African mythology, magic has disappeared and those who used to wield it have been cast aside as second class citizens or worse. But when the chance to restore magic is presented to Zelie and possibly a chance to level the playing field, the threat of war hums in the air. This book especially, but the whole series, shows how prejudices can blind even the best of intentions. This particular book wasn’t as strong as the first, but it definitely seemed more like a bridge to a final book.

The Night Country – This is the second book in the Hazelwood series by Melissa Albert. This series has been either loved or hated by readers. I enjoy the story which is based on a series of dark fairy tales. It follows a girl named Alice who, in this book, is really trying to figure out who she is and what sacrifices she is willing to make to save the ones she loves. Not as great as the first one, but still a pretty stellar read.

The Queen of Nothing – The final book in the trilogy by Holly Black. Jude and her sister watch their parents’ murder and are whisked away to the land of fairies where they have to learn to survive. She learns about true power and true love. There is a bit of problematic aspects in her relationship with Cardan, but overall, her character transformation is well done.

A Gathering of Shadows – Second book in the Shades of Magic series by Victoria Schwab. After the events of the first book, the characters are once again connected but this time, it’s a tournament of magic. Alucard Emery is introduced as well as new revelations with the other main characters.

Standalones or First Books in a Series

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Magical story by Alix E. Harrow about writing and books and believing in yourself. January is a young girl with an absent father and doting guardian. Her father works for her guardian, and one day she finds a door on the estate. After the door appears, she can summon it in the written word. And the adventure, and her true identity, emerge.

Parable of the Sower – One of the books I read for a book club that scared me. What a book to begin reading in 2020! Octavia Butler writes a dystopian future set in 2024 after a global climate crisis and a socioeconomic collapse. It was interesting to see how much people tried to hang on to their old lives as the world collapsed. I saw parts of this played out in real life only months later. It probably add to my anxiety.

The Bear and the Nightingale – First book in a trilogy by Katherine Arden. Set in Russia and, I believe, based on Russian myths, Vasya comes from a line of magical and crazed women, and when she starts to connect to the supernatural creatures, the whole world gets turned upside down. Good bit of violence and heavily uses 14th century Russian history which lost me at times.

All Systems Red – Science Fiction read by Martha Wells. The first part of the book was a bit slow, but it really took off in the end. The book is written through the perspective of an sentient AI robot that is acting as security for a research team. But when things go amiss, the team starts to realize that someone is sabotaging them and the robot, SecUnit, is all that stands between the success of their mission or their death.

The Space Between Us – This was a book club pick by Thrity Umrigar. It was a heartbreaking, but the relationships were fascinating. There are also a lot of triggers – rape, abuse – both verbal and physical, abortion and loss. It is set in Bombay and follows the lives of two women in different classes, and the limitations and freedoms they find in their lives. Really appreciated the connection of mental health and pregnancy loss.

The Gilded Wolves – First in the series by Roshani Chokshi based, I think, on Eastern mythologies, particularly Hindu practices. It is a heist book with magical realism aspects, though the characters didn’t seem as well-rounded as I would have liked. It definitely ends in a cliffhanger so it is obviously part of a series.

Blonde Roots – Really good book by Bernardine Evaristo answering the question, what if white people were the enslaved instead of black people. It changed the geography, what was defined as beautiful, and really showcased the microprejudices and how they affect day to day living.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones is a hard author to read because I don’t agree with her characters’ choices. But the reason I am so uncomfortable really comes from the fact I never have had to make these hard choices because other opportunities were available to me. Really exemplifies privilege in many forms. Roy is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and his newly-wedded wife Celestial must make hard choices that will affect both their futures.

The Last Train to Key West – Historical Fiction by Chanel Cleeton that follows three women as they face a terrible hurricane in Florida during the Great Depression era. In addition to this deadly storm, each woman is also trying to navigate their own stormy lives which come together in unexpected ways. There is mention of pregnancy loss and abusive marriage in this book.

Station Eleven – Another pandemic-related apocalypse book by Emily St. John Mandel. This was a flu-type of pandemic so it was perfect for 2020. After 99% of the world’s population dies, the ones left have to learn to survive on no electricity, internet or running water. There is a traveling symphony that shares the classics of Shakespeare and others to various towns, which is quite a dangerous job since they don’t know just what they are walking into, even if they have been there before. There is a lot of loss and sadness in the book, which the author beautifully explores from different perspectives.

We Hunt the Flame – First book in a series by Hafsah Faizal. The second book is on my list to purchase. The land has become cursed, and Zafira the secret Hunter and Nasir, the Prince of Death, must come together to try to restore magic and heal their land. Another story based in culture and mythology.

Silver Sparrow – Another book by Tayari Jones (the hard author to read because I don’t agree with her characters’ choices). This book, though, explores privilege more directly. James Witherspoon is a bigamist, but his secret family is the only one that knows. First part comes from his secret daughter’s perspective and the second part is from his other daughter.

Collections

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter – Really good collection of writings from different authors (including C.S. Lewis which drew me to the book in the first place) about Lent, Jesus, and Easter. It didn’t line up to the 40 days of Lent, but it was still a nice devotional to read during that time.

Space Struck – A collection of poems written by Paige Lewis. Lots of really incredible lines, though some of it did go over my head. Clever observations, Biblical references and chances from perspective from poem to poem

Nonfiction

The Self-Evolved Leader: Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People In a World The Refuses to Slow Down – This book was sent to me by the author, Dave McKeown. It is well-written and easy to follow with lots of journaling and practice throughout the book. But I was not its target demographic. Still rated it pretty highly.

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 – Book by Joanna Faber and Julie King that was empowering, validating, and helpful, though not the only parenting book you should have on your shelf. It deals with rage and frustration (which all parents can identify with) and some tools to help.

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent – This feels like a trend that I read this year, but it was different than the above parenting book in that Carla Naumburg focused directly on anger management. I felt that though this was directed towards parents, it is helpful for any relationship.

Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life – Beth Moore’s new book that compares our life in Christ with viticulture (or growing grapes on vines). It was informative and inspiring, though not my favorite study of hers.

On Immunity: An Inoculation – Another timely read book by Eula Biss. This is a collection of thoughts about immunizations, vaccines, and being a member of a community. Fascinating history of how vaccines started, how they have evolved, and why people may be hesitant to take them. Also why it is ultimately important to take them if you are able.

What are some of your 4 star books this year?

The Season of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I didn’t grow up observing this day or the season of Lent.  However, I’m very familiar with Mardi Gras, which was yesterday, because I grew up in New Orleans.  I marched in parades in middle school, and our family always went to the family-friendly parades in our area. 

But growing up, we didn’t observe Lent because it was something the Catholic community did.  Though to be quite honest, fasting wasn’t a discipline that was really talked about in our church circles.  Every now and then, someone would be fasting and praying about some situation, but it wasn’t really a dedicated practice.  So, an entire section of the year dedicated to fasting was entirely foreign to me.

And, even among my friends that did fast for Lent, it seemed like it was more of a sanctioned diet than it was a religious event.  The most common thing that people fasted was chocolate or sweets. 

Then, as an adult, I continued to have a very awkward relationship with this particular time of the year.  On a hilarious note, I didn’t realize that the fast wasn’t done on the Sundays of Lent until I had already participated for a few years.  I couldn’t figure out how people were saying it was reflecting 40 days of Jesus fasting in the wilderness when it was not 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Thankfully, I googled it at some point.

And I’ve also learned, as an adult, that it is more than just taking something away from your life but replacing it with God.  It is also a season of generosity and looking to the welfare of others.  Things that I would not have recognized as a kid, mostly because a lot of this is done privately.

But I still struggle with if and how I want to observe Lent.  Part of me feels like an impostor trying to do something I don’t really understand.  Part of me is curious and open to using this time to connect with God.  So, here is where this journey has taken me today.

Last year, Caroline Williams Yoga on YouTube did a weekly session for the Lent season, using a book called Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.  And of course, being me, I made a mental note to get this book.  So, now it is a year later, and I have the book, ready to read these chapters over the course of the next 40 days (or so).  I want to use it to direct my thoughts each day, giving me focus during this practice.

I also decided not to fast. I know that is the traditional thing to do, but I really struggled with what I should fast, which really showed me that I wasn’t ready to take that step. I want to know more about this tradition before continuing to observe it in its most traditional sense.

Because ultimately, as with anything I do, my main goal is to have a closer relationship with God and be more like Jesus.  And hopefully, I will continue doing that on this journey, one foot in front of the other.